Words are not a problem for me. I’m a decent writer. Drawing is not a problem either. I’m good enough at that. But the connection between words and drawings eludes me. Other people can look at a sketch and associate the sketch with words. A sketch of a circle might suggest “completeness,” say. But when I look at a sketch of a circle I see a circle. I understand its circle-ness, but I can’t translate the circle I see into the word “completeness” without engaging in a process not unlike looking up something in the dictionary. I can parse it out after some thought, but the association is not easy.

What I’m discovering, however, is that as a designer, I need to develop the mental agility to jump easily and intuitively between what is verbal and what is visual. Verbal and visual must become somehow joined or at least enjoy a seemless relationship.

I remember my first design studio. The professor asked us to depict four adjectives on four concept boards using magazine cutouts. I picked my adjectives and collected a nice pile of magazines, sharp scissors, and some glue. Then I hit a wall – I didn’t have a clue how to translate my adjectives into a collage of pictures. I struggled through the concept boards without a great deal of satisfaction.

Turns out, we had to pick one of these collages and, from it, derive a written statement to use as the concept for our term project, the re-design of two condominium units into a single condominium/studio. I staggered. This was too many layers of translation for me – from words to images back to words and then into images again. But I persevered and ended up liking my project. Surprisingly, it actually did relate to the adjective-derived concept board, so I clearly learned something. (Click here to see the process book for that project, Green’s Condominium, or here to see the concept board, sketches and drawings in loose form.)

My current studio, Furniture Design, is progressing along a similar, but perhaps more personal path. After doing a series of 3D sketches associated with a given list of emotions (see my 3D sketches here), we were asked to create a list of 10 words that described us – a list of personal traits. We worked in teams to refine these words, eventually reducing our list to 6 words. Now we are charged with creating a series of 3″ x 3″ sketches that express these traits. These drawings will become the basis for our designs for a chair. I am again having to translate from words to drawings and, as before, it makes me apprehensive.

I still have no clue as to how to draw an emotion or a trait, but I’m going to get out my pencils and paper and start drawing. Something will develop that may or may not actually evoke the trait, but it will be interesting nevertheless and may, I hope, make for a decent chair design by the end of this two week exercise.

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